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Oyster Flats

Dawn Evans Radford recently visited several retailers in the Glens Falls area to read from and talk about her literary work. Radfords first novel, Oyster Flats, is a descriptive look at life on the Florida Panhandle. Her often compelling, sometimes humorous cast of characters draws the reader into a world where struggle and sacrifice are a way of life. Radford recreates a moment in history some forty years ago when the world was going through many changes. These changes are reflected in the lives of her characters, though perhaps on a smaller scale. Radford uses three narrators Darlene Duggar, an eleven-year-old girl whos lived in Oyster Flats for all of her life, but is destined for more than her small town could ever offer her, Brother Joshua Herndon, a convicted felon turned preacher and his wife, Miss Venera Herndon. Miss Venera is a certified pastor herself who met Brother Joshua on a community service visit to the prison where he served his sentence. Though she holds a degree from the Methodist College, her devotion to Brother Joshua has kept her from preaching. Each narrator has his or her own style giving the novel many different perspectives. Darlenes story is told through straight, first person narration. Miss Venera has an epistolary style, writing letters to her mother, while Brother Joshuas sermons serve as his contributions to the novel. The changes in narrative style propel the overall story. Both Miss Veneras letters and Brother Joshuas sermons give the reader a unique, insiders view of the plot. With his newly received certification by mail order to preach, Brother Joshua moves to Oyster Flats to start the Friends of the Tabernacle Church. The Herndons move into a small trailer across the road from the Duggars. Darlene quickly becomes their confidant and the Herndons take her under their wings. Darlenes stepfather is a man named Daddy Jook. The Herndons soon see that Daddy Jook is a dangerous man and pay particular attention to Darlene and her siblings. Miss Venera sees Darlenes potential and cultivates her interest in education and reading. She provides an example of a very strong, loving relationship with her husband, which contrasts Darlenes own mothers relationship with Daddy Jook. Darlene regards Miss Venera as an angel sent to her. Darlenes desire to please Miss Venera drives her to learn more about the subjects they discuss. Brother Joshuas sermons are quite convoluted and often very humorous, mixing biblical tales with childrens fairy tales and his own story of redemption. His humor and honesty bring many members of the community to the Friends of the Tabernacle Church and his parishioners quickly multiply. Though he often mixes up biblical stories, this serves as an educational experience sending churchgoers back to their bibles to fact check and keeping the sermons in their minds long after hes finished. Brother Joshua is able to reach his congregation through his openness about his background. He is a living demonstration of his belief that with the right guidance and acceptance of the Hand of God any individual can be redeemed. Though he is not perfect, Miss Veneras unwavering belief in him grants him the serenity he offers his flock. It is Brother Joshua who literally and figuratively saves the people of Oyster Flats. When tragedy strikes the usually placid town, the community must accept that someone among them is capable of murder. The community is torn and families mourn loss they cannot understand. The plot then quickens until motive and deception are revealed in a gripping conclusion. Oyster Flats is an enchanting story of love and redemption. The reader sees through the eyes of a child and understands, as Darlene does, that while some people are capable of greed, violence and harming those around them, others are not, wanting only to love and support the people in their lives. Perhaps the hardest lesson of all is that sometimes this love means sacrifice, while other times it is the most rewarding and redeeming of human emotions. Theresa Studnicky has a Masters in English and can be reached at theresastudnicky@gmail.com. Her book reviews will appear regularly in the News Enterprise.

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